Watching Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin walking back to the dressing room with swanky smiles on their faces after India posting an innings and 92 runs victory was fun. Watching Anil Kumble packing up his laptop and getting on his feet with a camera in hand to freeze-frame his first big moment as coach spiced up the fun. Reading about captain Kohli’s declaration during the post-match news conference of a brave new Indian transformation from learning to dominating fuelled a bold new sense of flag-waving jingoism. Still, it’s too early to take in all that captain Kohli said until we get to watch the brand new Kohli-Kumble-inspired mindset in action against a top Test team on their turf. A look at the Indian schedule for the 2016-17 season will tell us that we need to wait for a boring long time for that to happen.
India have been scheduled to play 13 Test matches after the current West Indies series, and nine of them will be against England (five) and Australia (four) — but they are all going to be played on Indian dustbowls — and that means there’s no way we could watch in the near future the Indian team doing things that until recently were viewed unlikely even to dream about.
While it’s easy to dismiss Kohli’s aggressive posture — “we are not at a stage now where we need to come and improve, we are ready enough in international cricket to start dominating” — as an expression of a sudden rush of energy on scoring a comprehensive victory at the start of a tour, we must not miss the fact that it’s the first time we have heard an Indian captain saying with a flawless clarity of mind and purpose that the days of learning were over. What we were used to hearing were excuses like “we are a young team”, “we are learning from our mistakes”, “we are trying to improve”, etc., all of which cushioned the rough rides when they really and inevitably came along their journey. Kohli may not win every match, he may not pull his tricks against Australia and England on their home pitches, but the intention and the courage of the man are unlikely to be missed or taken lightly by any team.
No one may raise questions about Kohli’s talent and potential as a batsman. He has proved his class. It’s not easy to walk one’s talk against the Australians, but the fact that Kohli did it when Mitchell Johnson was around, not once but times enough to make the likes of David Warner speak in awe and respect of the skill of the aggressive Indian. Unfortunately, apart from Kohli, there weren’t many guys in the Indian team who beat their chest, and then proved their point, upon boarding a flight to down under.
While Kohli has proved his point against the Australians on fast and bouncy pitches, his ability to deal with the swing of things in England against James Anderson and Co. is suspect. Kohli’s average was 13.50 in the five-Test 2014 tour, and his personal score was below 10, including two ducks, in six of the 10 innings that saw him score just 134 runs, with his highest being 39. The bitter memories of the 2014 summer of discontent against swing and spin may be behind him, and he may have sorted out the edgy flaws, but until he goes out to England and scores heavily against the likes Anderson and Stuart Broad, it’s hard to accept dominating postures.
If there was a time ideal for the India team to tour England, perhaps it is now. Anderson and Broad are still around, and they would love an opportunity to tease Kohli outside off stump with balls nipping in and swinging away. Unfortunately, there is no chance of such a battle taking place in the near future, and when it does, which could be a year or so away, some of the characters in the 2014 drama may have quit the stage or are not just as good as they were. So, how about getting Narendra Modi to have a word over the phone with Nawaz Sharif so Misbah-ul Haq and his boys would board a flight to the West Indies and Kohli and his boys catch a flight to England in a mutual exchange that could perhaps better relations between the two countries? Sounds utopian, yes, but the very thought of such a possibility is exciting, and that’s how we need to look at Kohli’s articulation of dominating ideas in the Antiguan context of things.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman